The Aral Sea is completely drying up for the first time in modern history, as its been shrinking since the 1960s.
The eastern basin of the Aral Sea is completely dry, and it could all disappear from central Asia by 2020 because of the diversion of two rivers by the Soviet Union that once fed it.
With it’s gradual disappearance, the Aral Sea is making the region’s seasons more extreme. More than 60 million people now live in the region, and inflows to the lake have dropped likely due to climate change. This most recent desiccation is a result of dwindling snow and rain that typically feeds the lake.
Philip Micklin, a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University told NASA:
“This is the first time the eastern basin has completely dried in modern times … And it is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since Medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya to the Caspian Sea.”
In addition to dwindling inflows, massive irrigation efforts of the regions two major rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, depleted nearby water levels.
Aral was once the world’s fourth-largest lake, but it is now split into several pieces. One piece is the Northern and Southern Aral Seas, and further, the eastern and western lobes of the larger Southern Aral Sea.
The South Aral’s eastern lobe almost completely dried in 2009 but made a comeback in 2010, according to NASA.
The shrinking of the Aral Sea is often referred to as one of the worst environmental disasters. The region’s once-prosperous fishing industry has been essentially destroyed, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. The region is also heavily polluted, with consequent serious public health problems.